Short Biography of Luc Fraiture

Luc François Louis Fraiture, the second of four children, is born on August 18, 1939 in Mol, a village in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium located on the Dutch border. His father was Walloon (from the French speaking part of Belgium) while his mother was Flemish. The three first years of his life were therefore spent learning to speak French but thereafter he became bilingual, performing all of his studies in Dutch. His elementary school education started in the fall of 1944, just after the liberation of Mol by English and Canadian troops. In September 1950 he was directed towards a humanistic education (including Latin and ancient Greek). Then, due to his father’s untimely death in January 1954, his mother moved the family to Tienen, the Belgian town where she was born and where her parents were still living. Thanks to family’s financial support, Luc’s education, as well as that of the other children, could proceed without restriction or interruption. His secondary school education was concluded in June 1958.

Already before his last year in high school, Luc had decided to study physics. Notwithstanding his humanistic background, he passed the com-pulsory examination in the first attempt, an exam which normally would have required a preparatory year. In 1962 he received his Master’s Degree (licentiaat) in Theoretical Physics at the University of Leuven. He then worked as a teacher of physics and chemistry for one year before applying for a scholarship, which he was awarded shortly after marrying Christiane Lamens, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, in October 1963. In the fall of 1965 he presented his doctoral dissertation, which dealt with electro-magnetic wave scattering, at the University of Leuven. His PhD in theoretical physics was awarded with the mark “highest distinction”.

Fraiture started his professional career at an institute for theoretical research (a subsidiary of the PHILLIPS consortium) located in Brussels. After a few months he was called to accomplish his military service, com­pulsory at that time in Belgium. After this year’s interruption he took up his duties again in the institute where he had to deal with passive circuit theory and its applications. He was soon charged with the task to develop a me-chanical bandpass filter for telephony (although such operational filters had already existed for more than 20 years at that time). Fraiture was tempo-rarely relocated to the ’natuurkundig laboratorium (physics laboratory)‘ of PHILLIPS near Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Starting almost from scratch and moreover, technically left on his own he soon realized that – lacking the relevant engineering background – he would not have been able to succeed in his assigned task and satisfy the expectations of his superiors in the given time frame of one or two years.

In December 1967 Fraiture applied for a post in the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), the predecessor of the European Space Agency (ESA). He was invited to an interview in January 1968 where he was offered a three year contract for the position of senior analyst dealing with the software development and support of attitude-related satellite op­erations. Not being a member of a research team at PHILLIPS, he was released from his contractual obligations to PHILLIPS without delay and could take up his duties in the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt in Germany mid March, 1968. Together with his wife he moved from Belgium to Germany. Their son, Boris, is nevertheless born in Belgium two years later.

As a matter of fact, L. Fraiture remained in the same professional dis­cipline for the next 29 years. His first projects were both three axis and spin-stabilized satellites for which he either worked alone or was aided by a younger colleague. In 1974, when it became clear that ESRO would change and become an agency, funds were released to prepare for the launch and early operations of coming geostationary missions. At this time Fraiture became a team leader, working with seven other people and was in charge of designing the ground based attitude software of these satellites, manage its implementation, as well as preparing and participating in their launch and early operations as attitude team leader. Although an incurable blood cancer was detected in 1977, Dr. Fraiture, in retrospect wisely, decided not to give too much weight to the medical prognosis, as in the end the cancer obviously had a low malignity and its influence on his .professional career has been fairly small.

In 1981 Dr. Fraiture was appointed to the official position of Head of the Spacecraft Attitude Section of ESOC. From then on, he also shared the position of Flight Dynamics Manager with his Division Head (Rolf Muench) and the section head in charge of orbit operations (Dr. Mattias Soop) in simulations, launches and early orbit operations. He nevertheless continued to play a leading role in the development of novel algorithms and the detailed design of sensor and actuator specific operational attitude software aspects. Under his direction the attitude software for geostationary transfer orbits was modernized and standardized. He further wrote more than fifty flight dynamics reports dealing with various technical and theoretical topics. In the middle of the nineties additional Flight Dynamics Managers had to be brought in to cope with multiple and almost simultaneous launches. As a result of the growing burden of very demanding operational involvements and his declining health, in 1996 Dr. Fraiture asked to be able to take advantage of an early retirement option running at that time for ESA staff. His demand for early retirement was accepted, thereby allowing him to retire from his official duties at the end of February, 1997. His career at ESOC therewith ended, a career of being deeply involved (often from early attitude and reaction control hardware design to routine operations) with approximately 35 different satellites. The official pension started only five years later.

So much for his official career. In reality, Fraiture had a vocation for physics from his early childhood onwards, asking himself questions about the speed of light, the motion of airplanes and the nature of electricity even before he went to elementary school. It however happens very often that early interests are subjugated to the profession one enters into later in life. Even if one has a certain degree freedom in organizing work, the interest must be bent towards themes which can be considered to be necessary or at least useful for the fulfilment of one’s job assignments. For L. Fraiture, this oriented interest is certainly conspicuous in the areas of parameter estimation for over-determined equation systems, spherical trigonometry and specific satellite attitude-related topics, categories to which the majority of his Journal papers and conference contributions belong.

Other themes he has dealt with are all more-or-less related to elements of the solar system in general, e.g. solar activity, planetary heat generation, influences of the terrestrial length of the day over the ages, etc. Before retiring, Fraiture devoted much of his free time to this outside, private research for which computer verifications were made at home. The literature analyses were generally made during waiting times in airports and the lonely hours spent in hotels while travelling professionally. Not all of these topics produced positive results but even if the results were interesting, they were not recorded in working papers and certainly not in external papers (apart from the study on planetary oblateness) to avoid any suspicion by ESOC management. Should he have decided to publicize this research, it is likely, that lengthy referee processes would have been necessary to compensate for the consequences of the isolation in which these studies had been performed. All this requires patience and time which Luc Fraiture did not have due to his demanding professional duties and both his eclectic research tastes, as well as the fear to put his job at risk.

To complete this overview we will return to Luc Fraiture’s private life. In the mid nineties he and his wife had planned to return to Belgium in spring 2000, and had begun furnishing a lovely apartment there. These plans were suddenly overthrown by the unexpected death of his wife in May 1999. Thereupon L. Fraiture decided to stay in Germany where he had many more friends than in Tienen, the town which he left more than thirty years before. But, as his father-in-law was still alive, Fraiture visited him for a week every month. This implied continuous travelling back-and-forth between Western Germany and central Belgium. His father-in-law died in October 2003. Having found a new companion also in Tienen, though, the need for travelling back-and-forth was perpetuated. In the second half of 2005 his cancer required an urgent treatment which kept him at home for six months.

In early 2006 Luc Fraiture started negotiations with the University of Leuven to create, together with his son, Boris, who had since become a cardiologist, a fund – largely based on the inheritance from his parents-in-law – for promoting and funding research concerning blood cancers. The negotiations were completed in the spring of 2007 and the statutes for the Fraiture Blood Cancer Fund of the Catholic University of Leuven were officially signed at the end of June 2007. Eligible contributions competing for prizes in the context of this fund have to be generated in institutes, industries and universities which use one of the three official languages of Belgium, namely Dutch, French or German. Accumulations of gains (fund interests) allowing a first prize attribution has been affected by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and is anticipated to occur beyond 2013. In the meanwhile, Luc Fraiture has remarried, namely to Mrs Niki Preud’homme, the companion mentioned earlier. In mid 2007, Niki joined her husband in Germany. . .